Risk Identification

Risk identification is the first step in risk management. We need to identify both project and product risk by using certain techniques. Some of the most common techniques which can be applied to identify different risks are using risk templates, interviewing the stakeholders, project retrospectives etc.

You should try to include as many stakeholders as you can to identify different risk because the broadest range of stakeholders will provide the maximum risk items associated to the product.

Several formal techniques like Failure Mode and Effect Analysis (FMEA) and Failure Mode Effect and Criticality Analysis (FMECA) are used to find the risk. These techniques identify the effects of the risk if in case that becomes an outcome. The effects can be on people, society, users, customers etc.

The Importance of Identifying Risks

Once a risk is managed, the mitigation and contingency steps become just one more task on a project manager’s to-do list–or better yet, someone else’s list. Before you can manage risks, though, you need to identify them so that they can be analyzed, discussed and mitigated.

The ability to identify risks should involve the entire project team, but normally the project manager will lead the effort and get the ball rolling. There are many different ways to identify risks that will pertain to the project, and the project manager should work through as many of them as are relevant to the project–and realistic for the project team.

Old Projects: The first step in identifying risks is to look at projects that are already completed. If a project is similar in nature to the present one, then you can review the documentation and the information that was captured about those projects. The risks that were identified for that project can be reviewed to determine if they could also be risks for the current project.

In addition, the issues that occurred will be a great resource for identifying risks that might occur in the present project. You need to identify those issues as risks before they occur and determine how to best mitigate them so that they do not turn into issues. Mitigating these types of risks can provide a great boost to the project from the very beginning; it will not fall into the same problems that have plagued other projects.

At the same time, these sessions should not devolve into predicting every possible dire outcome. After all, the project team is not going to mitigate the risk that an asteroid could strike Earth and wipe out life as we know it. Instead, the project manager should lead the brainstorming effort and concentrate on letting everyone speak to the realistic and manageable risks that the project will face.

Careful Listening: One other tactic to identify risks is to practice careful listening. As a project begins in the planning and designing phases, the project manager should be in meetings and listening carefully to what is going on. By being involved in these meetings, the PM can begin to formulate ideas for risks that need to be mitigated and managed by the project team. If you hear people talk about tasks they are worried about or scope that is not understood well, that is a clue to sit up, pay attention and start writing down risks related to the issues they are talking about. Being able to do this means that you are listening and paying attention to what is going on with the project team.

Templates: In addition to looking through data and information from previous projects, it can be helpful to look at templates. There are many resources available about implementing projects and common risks that occur in projects based on the industry or type of project. The project manager should do the research and make use of anything that may be available. These resources can be found online or in the library or even through your network of project management peers. Whenever you have an available resource to get risks identified for the project, you should make use of it.

Staying Ahead of the Curve: All of these ways of identifying risks are how you can stay ahead of the curve when it comes to managing the project. Most of your time and energy will be spent on creating a schedule and managing work according to that schedule. But risks are a vital part of the project, and they should not be worked on in whatever time is left after everything else is done. Identifying them early in the project and working on them continually–and as often as possible–is a way to stay on top of the risks and potential issues that will affect the project. Identifying risks helps everyone on the project.

Brainstorming: The entire project team should be involved in brainstorming for risks. Key stakeholders can also be polled for the risks that they anticipate on the project. These brainstorming sessions should be open discussions and not limited by any preconceived notions or small lists of risks that the project manager wants to work on. A good brainstorming session involves letting everyone have their say and hearing out the thoughts of the entire project team.

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